Inuit Culture on the Brink

Arctic natives fight cultural extinction

| October 4, 2007

In the town of Illulissat on Greenland's western coast, the native Inuit culture is receding with glaciers. The environmental changes brought on by global climate change are having a devastating cultural and psychological effect on the people of Greenland's largest settlement north of the Artic Circle. So reports Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, for the Huffington Post . Commercial fishing and oil exploration were already eroding Inuit cultural practices. Now, says Pope, traditions like hunting marine mammals -- which depends on plentiful sea ice -- are on the decline. "[T]he collapse of the traditional subsistence culture has left despair and hopelessness among the young." In March, Pope reports, 14 teenage boys in the town of 5,000 committed suicide.

Climate change has cast a cloud of mystery and misery over the essential survival of Arctic natives. Last month, the Times of London detailed how industrial pollution has tainted the traditional Inuit diet of seal and whale across the Arctic. Researchers think this may have lead to Inuit women, from Canada to Russia, having very few male babies -- a perplexing development that could spell a demographic and cultural crisis.

The Inuit want their voices heard by the world's great polluters before its too late, especially now that Canada, Russia, and the Unites States are scrambling to lay claim to the new sea routes and natural resources made available by the receding polar icecaps (see: "Canada's Line in the Ice"). Duane Smith, president of the Canadian chapter of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, tells the Christian Science Monitor , "[W]e should have some role to play in regard to what happens here... We are the ones living here, and any detrimental impact to the area will have an effect on our way of life and our culture."

Go there >> A Tale of Three Arctics

Go there, too >> Pollution Blamed for Fall in Arctic Baby Boys

And there >> As Race for Oil-rich Arctic Heats Up, Inuit Stake Their Claim, too

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